The 2015 thriller Sicario finally gets a sequel this year in Sicario 2: Soldado. The original film served as a kind of launching pad for both director Denis Villeneuve and composer Johann Johannsson, proving that the former could take on larger budgeted projects such as Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, and making the latter one of Hollywood’s most in-demand composers. The score for that first film was unique, and an odd one to be recognised by the Academy. Consisting of electronically-manipulated strings and brass, it succeeded admirably at providing an overwhelming sense of dread to mirror the main characters descent into a fight with South America drug cartels.
After the shocking death of Johannsson earlier this year, the composing job for this sequel went to his frequent collaborator and famed Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir. Guðnadóttir has been slowly building a name for herself as a composer over the past couple of years, scoring Garth Davis’ Mary Magdalene and having been nominated for several European awards, making her a seemingly ideal candidate to follow-up one of Johannsson’s most popular works. In the end, however, her effort for Sicario 2: Soldado falls short of that benchmark.
Guðnadóttir’s score aims to build its tension primarily through the layering of droning strings, producing a kind of rising siren sound over top of pounding percussion. This approach is heard right off the bat in “Attack,” and goes on to inform just about every subsequent track. In terms of conception, it is not an awful idea, but Guðnadóttir seems to use it as a crux, hoping that the layers of drones and pounding will make up for the barebones simplicity of her writing. The end result is that most tracks play as one big crescendo, adding in sounds as it goes along and building in volume as its primary method of putting you on edge.
While this can result in effective singular tracks that may warrant revisits, such as the aforementioned “Attack” and the finale track “Survivors,” it creates a sense of monotony to a score that should not be dragging at only 36 minutes. Johannson’s original score had its share of droning, but kept things fresh through the usage of processed brass clusters, slurred string lines, and a willingness to vary tempo and techniques within each track to respond to what was happening on screen. Here, what you hear at the outset of a track is pretty much what it maintains for its entire length, lending much of this the feel of trailer or library music, stuff you could plug into iMovie to ratchet up the tension of your latest student film because it does not seem to be responding to specific actions on screen.
Even if each track is consistent in its mood, some tracks in the latter half of the album do start to incorporate more pleasant harmonies. The last minute of “Santa Claus” introduces non-processed strings to underscore a more emotional moment, with the strings returning in “Alejandro Saves Isabelle,” “Journey to the Border,” and “The Execution.” It is a rather nebulous idea, but does convey the sad innocence associated with a child character who finds herself in the middle of a drug war. Again though, the actual composition of the idea underwhelms in its simplistic construct and intention.
As the album ends with another grinding, pounding action track in “Survivors,” the listener is left with surprisingly little to take away. Guðnadóttir has succeed in producing a listenable and tense score, but one with none of the flair or originality that made the original so notable. Its tone is correct, but as a composition it tends to underachieve while masking behind lots of processing. Fans of the films and this sound palette may find something here, but others would be better served revisiting the late Johannsson’s oft-emulated classic.
Sicario 2: Soldado soundtrack is now available from Varese Sarabande.